The 7 Quickest of Takes

Over at Kelly’s place.  You know what to do.


We’ve had one open house with four visitors, one actual official-like realtor showing, and no offers yet.  Please keep praying.

Those booze boxes are empty.  Now they are, anyway.

Those booze boxes are empty. Now, anyway.


I’ve been exercising a bit every morning right after  I get out of bed.  Am I the only one who doesn’t feel better after exercising?  Wheezing, aching, point-tenderness?  Then again, I also want to not die any earlier than I can possibly manage. So I keep trying.  Intermittently.


I’m part of two panels at the Catholic Writers Guild Live next month.  Go, and do not miss this conference again.


I’m making some invisible headway on Never Let Me Down Again,  the working title for the sequel to Don’t You Forget About Me:

Don't You Forget About Me FTcasefrontcover

I got so stuck that I’ve had to resort to writing exercises.  One of them is a sunblock of my own invention: Through Line.  It’s based on the Through Line from Method Acting.  It’s great in that it provides action verbs that can translate very well into layered characterization and later into deeper imagery.  All that is my way of saying that I’m glad I majored in Theatre instead of English.


Speaking of theater majors, tomorrow I’m going to a mini-reunion for my college department.  I’ll be seeing the people I worked with over twenty years and eighty pounds ago.  I’m excited and truly looking forward to it.  I’m also a bit anxious.  These people have a lot of reasons to look down on me.  However, I have lots of reasons to love them.  So, I’m going.  All additional decades and pounds of me.


My only thought on people who’ve decided to go through colossal changes to their bodies and how people relate to them:  I am reminded of The Woman Who Wasn’t There. All my life I’ve seen people become what at some essence (fashion-wise, social-wise, DNA-wise, whatever-wise) they are not.  I have been one of those people.  Sometimes I wonder if I still am, though in my typically bass-ackwards way.  I am painfully uncomfortable maintaining any kind of facade, though that’s through no virtue of my own: I am just too scatterbrained to keep up any kind of a lie for very long, .

We’re all looking for acceptance.  I’ve seen people search for that acceptance by, either deliberately or subconsciously, seeking out groups who have a rule, unspoken or otherwise, to reject nobody.  I think that’s why it’s pretty important to teach our kids (and, ahem, ourselves) to accept who and what we are, because there’s always gonna be someone who wants you to be something you’re not.  If I’ve learned anything from the dubious virtue of being too scatterbrained to spin the plates of a public-vs-private-face, it’s that when we’re secure in who and what we are, we don’t even want to put up a fight or a front over how much acceptance others owe us.  They can’t give me what I don’t need because I already have it.


I wanted to end with Charleston.  The piece that’s taught the me the most on it is by Jen Fitz.  Jen Fitz is my spirit animal.  My southern, laid-back, quietly observant, subtly charming spirit animal.

In reading and praying over the list of victims, the one who resonates the most with me personally is Tywanza Sanders.  Yes, he was a young black man, and I’m a middle-aged white woman.  However, when I saw his age, I saw myself a few years ago, the only twentysomething at a Bible study, the youngest by thirty years.  So, as strange as it sounds to say, in some small way, I’ve been in his seat at the Bible study.  Would I have stood up to take someone else’s bullet?  I’d like to think so.  May he pray for me as I’ll pray for him, that I can be courageous like he was.

Another reason to be Catholic: in the communion of saints, we can become friends with people we never would have met, on this earth, either because of human constructs or simple physical distance.  God willing, when we ourselves reach heaven, those friends will be waiting for us, arms outstretched, shouting, “Finally!  You made it!”

7 Steps to a Library Author Event


I got your quick takes RIGHT HERE!  And so does Kelly over at This Ain’t the Lyceum. 

Last Saturday I took part in an event for local authors at the happiest place on earth.happiestplaceonearth_thumb

No, not there. Our local library!  How did we make this happen?


Get to know your local librarian!

Sherrie at the library putting DYFAM in its library suit.

Sherrie at the library putting DYFAM in its library suit.

This is Sherrie, who blogs over at Sherrie’s Scriptorium.  She’s also the welcoming face we see at one of our local libraries.  She loves books and more than tolerates people, which makes her the best possible person to have behind that desk.  I had a relationship with Sherrie before my book came out, so that once it was available, I already had an ally in the fight to get my book in the hands of readers.


Network with other authors.  I joined the Catholic Writers Guild ages ago and more recently joined my local branch of Sisters in Crime.  Both organizations gave me a connection to other authors for times like this.


Come up with some cockamamie theme, ideally having something to do with a holiday.  Holidays mean shopping for gifts.  Books make great gifts.  An author event themed to a holiday sounds like a winning idea to me.  And thus…


Design holiday-themed activities to include in your event that get people to mingle and not just stand around feeling shy and awkward.  Bookworms and the people who write for them are not exactly known for their extraversion, after all.  Valentine’s Day means dating.  Speed dating with books (3 minutes with one book, then you have to move on to the next) and blind dates with books (wrapped in brown paper and purchased unwrapped for a donation to the library) were the order of the day.  We’re already talking about a possible summer reading event, “Beach Book Bingo.”


Give yourself enough time.  Please, people, never do something like this (forgive the language) half-assed and last minute and then complain that nobody showed up.  Your audience for this event needs time to hear from you repeatedly, find out which of their friends are going, and then commit to attending themselves in order for your live event marketing to have a hope of working.  You could still have a flop, but at least it won’t be for lack of trying.

Sherrie & I threw this together in about six weeks from idea to event.  This was as tight a time frame as I’d ever want.  I’d prefer to start 8-12 weeks from idea to event.  Why so much time?  You need to…


Get your librarian and her library on board.  You may need time to get the library’s board of directors to approve your event, and that can be tricky, especially during seasons when weather is likely to cancel board meetings.


Organize, mobilize and publicize.  Recruit authors from your network to take part in the event, because many hands make light work, and variety has a bigger draw.  Organize who’s doing what when (we used SignupGenius.com).  Send out press releases 4-6 weeks before your event.  Create a Facebook event (if you’re as lucky as I am, your Sherrie will do this for you).  Tweet. Instagram, if that’s your thing.  Encourage your fellow participating authors to do the same.  Together we had a longer reach, and by including other authors in this stage of the game, I got several new media contacts to whom I was able to send the PR, which is always a good thing.


Enjoy your event!  The weather was not great, but we still had some readers come join us.  Most of us sold books.  I showed up with two boxes of items for my display table and left with just one!

Here’s the speed dating table…


Copyright 2015 Sherrie Palmer. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

I also suggested people bring a food to share with readers that connects to your book.  Top left corner has your tomato pie, fo sho, but also take a look at the little “A Good Book” sandwiches another librarian on staff that day made with tortillas.  Deliciously cute! Carolyn Astfalk, whose book isn’t even out yet, brought “Rebecca’s Fantasy Fudge,” which is part of her forthcoming novel, and bookmarks with the recipe on them, fantastic ways to get potential readers to hang on to your info and keep you in mind when your book release date gets closer.

Copyright 2015 Sherrie Palmer.  All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Copyright 2015 Sherrie Palmer. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

So, even though we did not have a HUGE crowd, we had some crowd.  Best of all, though, we writers had an opportunity to share our writing lives with others.

Copyright 2015 Sherrie Palmer, All Rights Reserved.  Used with Permission.

Copyright 2015 Sherrie Palmer, All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.

Many thanks to Sherrie and the Atglen Public Library for hosting us! Let’s do it again some time. Also, do check out Sherrie’s blog, where she’ll have a list of links to all the “Fall in Love With a Good Book” participating authors.    Have you ever put together an author event like this one?  Do you have any tips to add?  Do you need some additional ideas on how to organize your own event?  Comment below and let’s share brains!  

7 Quick Takes Friday, the Accidental Writing Prompt Edition

Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!  I am so excited that Kelly of This Ain’t the Lyceum is the new hostess-with-the-mostess for 7QT!  She’s one of those folks whose blog I follow and who makes me feel like she’s my smarter-and-funnier-than-me little sister, only she doesn’t know that we’re related, and if I were to fangirl on her in person, it would be one of those awkward things where the police might get involved, and so on and so on.

I am grateful to Jennifer F. for hosting 7QT for so many moons, and I wish her much continued success in the world of memoir-writing and radio-hosting-in-her-living-room and otherwise becoming a real live celebrity.  Though I’m sure she’ll miss us now that she’s broken it off with us…

… but somehow I’m sure the ONEHUNDREDMEEELIONDOLLARS that she’s undoubtedly making in the world of Catholic culture will be a balm to her heartbroken soul over losing us to Kelly.

Ahem.  And now, back to my 7QT.  Things are a kind of busy around here that we don’t often suffer.  Pft.  Who am I kidding?  We’re usually this kind of busy.  But I have an ebook coming out on Holy Family Sunday and am doing a reverse-blog tour (interviewing people here at my place) to share the joy of “Working Mother,” and we’re still homeschooling and trying to Advent and thinking about Christmas… you know how it goes.  Anyway.  Anyway.  What was I saying?  Oh, yes.  7QT.  I’m about to put the Quick in that Q there.

On my personal FB page, I often, sometimes several times a day, post the funny, awkward, and COMPLETELY BIZARRE things that come out of the mouth of Second Shift of Kid, age 4.  The fabulous Amy M. Bennett commented on one, “You never run out of story prompts, do you?” I responded, “Second Shift of Kid is a walking, squawking story prompt.”  And to put that to the test, I bring you a 7QT made up entirely of Second Shift Story Prompt Lines.


“Raccoons have terrible ideas.”


“Can you watch my baby while I’m gone?  If she starts crying, don’t call me, okay?”


“Christmas is even the worst time to go butterfly-catching.”


“I don’t think spiders have necks, but cats definitely do.”


“Mommy, I’m writing a book that you can read!”

How exciting! What’s it about?

“I don’t know. I can’t read yet. You’ll have to read it to me.”


“Cats don’t get sunburn.”


“You can’t be real if you never go to the bathroom.”  

Feeling inspired?  You should be.  I know I am.  Feel free to comment with your responses to said story prompts.



I wish we were bears.  Then no bears would eat us.  

7QT: 7 Books in 7 Days


Go on over to Jennifer’s place for 7 Quick Takes Friday!

Not this week but the previous, our family got a crazy-good deal on a beach house in the Outer Banks.

It was vacation.  An actual, real live vacation.  I made the choice to leave the laptop at home and refill on reading.  I had (well, still have) a large pile of review copies to go through, so I selected seven of these with the goal of finishing one book a day.  Did I reach said goal?  Read on, but if I did, it was in no small part thanks to these babies.  As the years have gone by, I’ve developed motion sickness, especially when I read in the car.  These “patchies” let me read in the car again for the first time in decades!  Yay!  Talk to your doctor to find out if these are right for you. Duh.


The Tripods Attack! (The Young Chesterton Chronicles) by John McNichol

I am no longer ashamed to admit that I cut my writing chops in the world of fanfiction.  Jane_E is a little bit fanfic-y, if you think about it.  Therefore, I will always have a soft spot in my cold, snarky heart for anything that could be called fanfic.  In this first book of The Young Chesterton Chronicles, we have a young, skinny (I know, right?) Gil Chesterton, born into a completely foreign universe. I mean, literally foreign:  he spent his childhood in Minnesota.  We also have his new buddy Herb Wells and this quietly tough little priest… Really, Tripods is a rollicking wooden roller coaster through a number of different fictional universes.  Hm.  Take that roller coaster and turn it into a “dark ride,” and voila!  Tripods.    Think fanfic for the Catholic soul.

Some caveats:  While I did enjoy The Difference Engine, I’m really not a fan of steampunk (#nerdshaming).  I’m also a girl.  While I spent a bit of my childhood (more than happily) playing the neighborhood Princess Leia, when things get violent, I do tend to watch through the slits between my fingers or just leave the room.  Tripods brought me lots of punchcards, steam power, and there was a considerable body count.  So, I admit, I may be more of a King’s Gambit sensibility.

That being said, if you like stuff more on the goggles-and-airships, high-body-count side, and you want to see your Catholic faith held up as a good thing and not a hindrance, Tripods might be just the ticket.  Also, if you have a young sci-fi reader who just can’t seem to stomach H. G. Wells straight from the, erm, well, or Chesterton straight from the, erm , chest? I can see Tripods piquing enough interest in the original work of both authors to turn the young reader on to same.


Trusting God with St. Therese by Connie Rossini

I posted about this when I started reading it, but it wasn’t until the aforementioned beach trip that I had the actual chance to finish it.  In Trusting God with St. Therese, Connie Rossini brings us the life of St. Therese chapter by chapter, retold with more clarity than, honestly, I found in Story of a Soul.  [Will I get in trouble for saying that?] As if this clarity weren’t gift enough, Rossini distills for us the lessons in trust and holiness that Therese learned bit by painful bit, then gives us a reflection from Rossini’s own, more modern life to help the reader apply Therese’s own lessons.  This last bit was done with great skill:  so often I get the sense that spiritual memoirs are written to stroke the author’s ego and not to lead others deeper into the heart of Jesus.  Trusting does not fall into this easy trap.  The questions at the end of each chapter are great for either personal journaling or for group study.  In the end, I’m glad Connie Rossini approached me with the offer of a review copy.  I’m even happier I accepted.  I don’t often review nonfiction, and this was a worthy exception.


Unholy Bonds by Leslie Lynch

Unholy Bonds is the sequel to Hijacked, which I reviewed here.  If you haven’t yet read Hijacked, I’m confident you can still follow along with Unholy Bonds, but still, go read Hijacked too, because it’s one of the strongest books I’ve read this year.

Anyway, back to Unholy Bonds.  We meet again with Ben & Lannis, now getting married and finding their way through their relationships and through their own hearts in the aftermath of crimes committed against them.  We also get a chilling view into the heart of a criminal (I can’t say much without spoiling Hijacked) whom Ben & Lannis worked together to bring to justice.  “Bring to justice” usually conjures images like the one you see on the cover of this book:  row upon row of prison cells.  However, in Unholy Bonds, Leslie Lynch gives us an illustration of the concept of restoratative justice, the goal of which is to bring dignity and hope back into the lives of not just the victim but the perpetrator as well.  This sounds like such a, well, dangerous concept–trusting criminals to promote justice?  Really?  But because she does it in novel, Leslie Lynch breathes life into the concept, giving us a view into how much one person’s courage could, possibly, breathe courage and hope and honesty into another–into the last person you’d expect, really.  This was shown powerfully, not just through the prisoner but through the growth and healing in the relationship between Ben and Lannis as well.

I do want to say that Unholy Bonds does feature a small handful of scenes that are a little more explicit than I will choose to read these days.  However, the overall illustration of hope and healing and justice is so very, very uplifting and strong throughout the rest of the novel.  I encourage you, continue breaking through all the chapters of Unholy Bonds.  You–and your view of humanity–will be better for it.   


Opal’s Jubilee also by Leslie Lynch

When I saw that Opal’s Jubilee was inspired by pardons granted to women incarcerated for defending themselves against domestic abuse, I found the rich opportunity for conflict irresistible and couldn’t wait to read it.  I was not disappointed.  Again we get another spot-on opening chapter from Leslie Lynch (she is good, people!) that pulls us right into the conflict:  good cop doesn’t want released felon working for  his sweet mom.  From the opening sentences all the way through to “THE END,” all of the main characters gripped my heart and wouldn’t let go.  Leslie Lynch’s sense of beauty in the broken, of hope in the darkness, and of justice through courage all carry through a sharp plot and a living setting to make for yet another powerful novel.  You too will celebrate Opal’s Jubilee!


The Grace of Yes by Lisa Hendey

Okay, so I got a review copy of The Grace of Yes at the CMN Trade Show last month, but from what I understand we’re not supposed to start promoting it until closer to the November 3 release date.  So this is me biting my tongue and not telling you anything.  ANYTHING.  (grittingteethsogreatyesIcriedandlaughedtooandfeelalotmorehopefulyetproperlyconvictedaboutmywobblypathtoChrist).


The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning by Simcha Fisher

Do you already know what Natural Family Planning is? Do you want to use it?  Are you not quite always happy about using it?  Do you wish NFP were easier on you?  Then guess what–you’re normal!  You’re also the target audience for this book.  If you could really use some validation for your struggles to live your Catholic faith obediently as it’s actually taught, then The Sinner’s Guide is right up your alley.  Not a page goes by that isn’t filled with honest, deliciously sardonic belly laughs (which, incidentally are my favorite kind of belly laughs).  I say this as someone who is clearly outside the target audience for this book (I can’t relate to worrying about having an easy time getting pregnant, for starters).  Still, if you’re a fan of Simcha’s blog, and you’re otherwise pretty normal, (horny husband, exhausted wife, ill-timed Peak-Type Mucus, and so on and so on), then I bet you’ll get a rip-roaring kick out of The Sinner’s Guide.  Go buy it!


And sometimes, you just don’t finish them all.  I had seven books to read on my vacation.  I started reading Book #7… and, honestly, it was written in a style that is really, really hard for my frazzled-Type A-mommy brain to manage.  As a matter of personal conscience, I (generally) don’t give reviews that are less than 4-5 stars.  First, I know it’s unpleasant to get a negative review, so there’s that. More importantly, I also see my own limits as a reader.  I’m not the be-all, end-all authority on What Makes A Good Story.  I do think I have a decent eye for structure, characterization, setting, blah blah blah.  However, sometimes there’s just no accounting for taste–including mine.  Including yours, dear reader.  So, I encourage you, consider your own humility a moment before you press “post” on that “honest and constructive” review.  Something to think about.  YMMV.  ASAP.  LOL.  Pronto.  Texting and scones.  Etc.

7QT: Lessons Learned from Making Soap

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Join up with Jennifer at Conversion Diary for Seven Quick Takes Friday!

We tried out our second First Disciples project, in order to draft a set of project instructions to send to our Beta Team Extraordinaire. As you may remember, our first project was learning how to make a fire and keep it going. Our second project was making the kind of soap that Mary may have used. What have we learned so far?


Herodian life seems, so far, to have been full of little trinities. In order to have fire, you need fuel, oxygen, and heat. Flint strikes metal and creates a spark. In order to make soap, you need lye, fat, and water. You can’t remove one of those things from the other and still have fire or a spark or soap. The more I work with these kinds of things, the more it feels on a very visceral level like the Trinity has seared His image into the basic stuff of humanity–fire-making, fire-tending, soap-making… I wonder, where else will we find the face of God in this process, peeking around the corner, smiling, looking to see if we’ve noticed?


Primitive success required primitive tools, or, Some things just don’t translate across eras. Before making our foray into the world of soap-making, we studied what felt like a gazillion bajillion YouTube videos on how to make soap at home. It all seemed simple enough to follow until we got to the part in most of the videos where the star says, “And now you get your stick blender…” Mary did not have a stick blender. Fine, we said. We’ll make the soap using our plastic vessels, but we’ll just stir it all by hand. What could go wrong?

I’ll tell you what could go wrong. The ingredients won’t reach “trace” (the point-of-no-return in the emulsification process) if they lose their heat too quickly, and no dollar store plastic bowl is going to retain heat the way, say, a warmed terra cotta pot would have while the Herodian housewife stirred the soap. And no hand held dollar store mixing spoon will whip the ingredients together as fast as a stick blender would, hence why a stick blender is necessary in a world of plastic bowls, but a wooden spoon will work just fine if you have a vessel that retains heat.

Our result after three hours of stirring, then re-heating in a low slowcooker, then stirring some more: lye-olive oil slurry that never reached trace. Doubtful, we poured our runny goop into the mold and set it aside to dry. Then we went to bed, because I doubt even Mother Mary wants to stir a greasy mess all through the night.


God chose to be born in a time when human life was hard. On my personal Facebook page, I left a few statuses about how our soap wasn’t seeming to come together. A couple of friends teased me with hashtags such as #teamstickblender and #WWJD #useastickblender. Ah, but He could have and very clearly chose not to! What does that tell us about our God? A lot, I’m sure, but the first thing that comes to mind is that He wasn’t afraid of hard work. So what excuse do we have? That’d be none.


God chose to be born in a time when human life was slow. The easiest soap to make in Mary’s time would have been either tallow (rendered animal fat) or vegetable (probably olive oil). We started by making the olive oil soap because it was what we have in the pantry (this may surprise you, given my previous admissions of obesity, but we don’t have actual lard on hand all that often). Olive oil is the softest soap you can possibly make. The recipe we followed promised it would be ready to cut into curable bars after 24 hours. We waited one day, and it had become sludge. Another day and it had remained sludge. A third day, and it became slightly thicker sludge. Finally, on Day 4, it was firm enough to crack out of remove from the mold…


…and cut into little bars and squares and such.


I’ve read these might take three weeks to five years to cure hard enough not to fall apart under a running tap and clog up our drains. This is slightly more time than it takes me to drive to the store and buy a bar of soap somebody else made more cheaply than we’re making ours. This is the schedule for which God volunteered? Thoroughly Modern Erin is all like, “Dude. Whoa.”


Becoming like a little child. Okay, so First Shift isn’t “little” any more (Ellen Gable, they very well may be taller than you–which, you may be irritated amused to know that Older Member of First Shift made that a goal last year when she met you at CWG Live). I digress. Anyway, I was ready to throw out the aforementioned sludge after the first 24 hours of not drying, but First Shift convinced me to keep it around and see what happened. Maybe we could turn it into liquid soap or something. I grumbled and placed the mold up up and away on a high shelf. If I had ignored their hope, we would have assumed failure, which fire taught us is always dangerous. Their living hope breathed life back into mine.


We learn patience by living as patient people did–and do. Whenever I tell someone new about the First Disciples Project, I often wonder how crazy they think I am for wasting time teaching girls skills that they don’t really need any more. Now that my kids have seen our slow, hard work and patient waiting turned into success, I see that taking the time to live, even in a small way, as a more patient people would have done, bears fruit in our modern world. First Shift learned by making fire that we have to keep trying, even when it looks like we’re wasting our time. I believe it was that lesson that inspired them to ask me to wait upon the un-emulsified sludge. Their practiced hope breathed life back into mine.


Stepping into Mary’s sandals brings us closer to her Son. First Shift knows lots of faith facts and prayers and a generous number of faith “whys,” because I’d always been big on “why.” “Why?” is the question that brought me to Catholicism, so I’m not about to stop anybody from asking it. Still, it wasn’t until we began First Disciples that my kids started asking their own questions. “Would Mary have gone to Elizabeth alone? Why not? But what would it have been like if she did?” “Did Mary know how to find edible plants?” “What would Mary have grown in her garden?” The fact that they’re seeing her as a girl so like themselves is a gateway drug, I hope, to seeing Jesus as a real person. Mary suffered a hard life to bring up Jesus. Jesus suffered for love of them, for love of us all. Appreciating that is what brings us into relationship with him, what helps us see that He doesn’t owe us a darned thing He didn’t already give us.

We’re still looking for a few moms with girls ages 8-15 to join our beta testing team. If you’re interested, please email me at emccolecupp at g mail dawt com.

This girl is on FIIIAHHH! 7 Charm-ming Quick Takes

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Pack your sleeping roll and join Jennifer and the rest of us happy campers over at Conversion Diary for 7 Quick Takes Friday!

ETA:  I’d love a copy of Jennifer Fulweiler’s Something Other Than God, myself having come (back) to Catholicism from atheism, though at a younger age and through a much faster route than blogging.  If you mention where to buy this awesome-looking book in your 7QT post…

7qt259 contest1 7 Quick Takes about your awesomeness, saints working through Youtube, and me buying you a banana suit

So, here’s where to buy Something Other Than God by Jennifer Fulweiler.  You’re welcome.  🙂

I thought I was on fire with my last 7QT. Boy howdy, was I wrong! We just came back from a girls-only camping trip. See, I have a publisher interested in this idea for a series of books that encourages girls to learn the kinds of skills Mary would have needed to make her journey to visit—then help—her pregnant kinswoman Elizabeth. For instance, Mary probably didn’t know how to throw a tea party, but she sure as shooting knew how to cook over an open fire. She may not have known how to knit lace for her hankies, but there’s no doubt she knew how to turn mere fluff into clothing. Same goes for Elizabeth. Same goes for centuries—no, millennia—of girls who went before us.

Don’t get me wrong: I love modern technology and wouldn’t give away my smartphone, my blog, or my water heater without a fight. Still, we women have gone from being the most vital part of our communities—being the source of our most basic human needs for food, clothing and shelter—to being told we can’t make our own crumb topping for a casserole without professional help. Basically, we’ve been convinced that we’re incompetent. I’d put down real money that a girl who grows up feeling incompetent will become a woman who thinks she can’t handle life without a man (or some kind of romantic stimulation), can’t handle a crisis pregnancy, or can’t survive without destructive substances.

I have three girls. “Not on my watch,” says I.

So here I am, starting on a project I’m calling First Disciples: Amazing Skills for Strong Catholic Girls. Truth be told, that might even end up being relabled “for Strong Christian Girls,” because the more I think about it, the more I can see these skills as a meeting place for us with our separated sisters in Christ.

Anyway, through these books, girls (and their moms) can learn things like how to take fluff and turn it into fabric, how to cook over a fire made without matches, and how to be of service to pregnant women and others in need. As I draft the books, I’ll be testing out the activities with my own daughters, of course. I’m also looking for beta-testers. If you’re interested, comment below to join First Disciples Team Beta.

So, back to the camping trip. Before we left, First Shift and I read lots of books about wilderness survival, camp craft, and so on. I watched several YouTube videos about making fire without matches. Additionally, the Easter Bunny brought me one of these:


Not the kid, the thing she’s holding.

It’s a flint and striker, the modern-day version of the kind of thing first century people would’ve used to star their fires. At first I thought they might have used something like a bowdrill, but in the process of researching I discovered that wood was so scarce in first century Mediterranean lands that it wouldn’t have been wasted on a bowdrill when you could serve the same purpose with a rock and a bit of metal. Our goal for this trip was to make at least one fire without matches. Did we reach our goal? Read on to find out what we learned about fire.


Every knee will bend—even mine. You can’t light a fire unless you’re close to it. I’m obese, out of shape, and have had arthritis since I was 15 and an in-shape size 7/9. The fire doesn’t care. Every time I tried to light a fire with my butt in my camp chair, I failed. Matches or striker: it didn’t matter. I had to humble myself, accept the necessary pain, and get on my knees to light that fire.


You can’t be afraid to get too close. The few times I was able to get a spark to light on a bit of dryer lint or cotton ball tinder, I got up from my aforementioned knees. I thought, “Hey, I made fire! I can back off a bit.” Then what happened? Poof. Bye-bye, fire. Not only did I have to get back on my knees, but I had to touch burning things with my bare hands to have a fighting chance of keeping those flames alive. I had to quiet every piece of pyrophobic anxiety screaming inside of me and nudge that smoking sawdust with my fingers to get it closer to ignition. How many fears must we face in order to get close enough to where God wants us to be lit and warmed with His fire?


Keep breathing. “It’s going out. It’s going out! There. It’s out.” I lost count of how many times I heard the elder member of First Shift say that. I had to keep ignoring her natural negativity (and my own) and breathe on those smoldering embers, always at least three times. Trying to imitate me, First Shift would collectively give one gasping puff at the fire and say, “See? It’s out.” “Try three breaths.” And they would. And soon we’d have a fire again. Trying just once never worked. The fire needed as much breath as we could give it in order to get started.


Just keep breathing!


Never assume you’ll fail. I’d tried twice already to light the fire with the striker. Both fledgling fires had expired within two minutes. I decided to try a technique I’d seen on those YouTube videos: wrap your tinder in a nest of kindling, then once the spark catches, carry the whole nest (insulated in kindling) in your bare hands into the pre-built fire fuel. I’d failed so much that I didn’t think it would work, even with the extra help of the kindling nest. So I built my kindling nest RIGHT NEXT TO THE WOODPILE. I hit the striker once, twice, a third time, and within three seconds?

Con. Fla. Gra. Tion.

Embers spilled out of the kindling nest faster than I could pick the thing up. Fire fell into—and under—the waiting woodpile, and of course it all caught. The Holy Spirit intervened and kept the group’s collective generalized anxiety at bay as we laughed and ran to refill our water bucket.

Do you need me to explain this to you? Don’t assume you can only fail. Assumed failure, it seems, can be dangerous.


The fire only comes if you’ve made a place for it: or, some things have to be believed to be set on fire. The woman in this video about using a bowdrill says something to that effect. You know what? This proved true on our trip. If you’re embarking on any journey of faith—whether writing a novel, planning a blog tour or thinking about homeschooling—you won’t see the bridge through the fog unless you step towards where the bridge will be. In other words, first build your fire, then strike your first spark.


Forget the spots on the clean, white milk jug of your soul. Think fire instead. Just last week, I’d found myself at a loss for images to use when teaching our kids about the difference between venial and mortal sins. I know the “pure white milk jug” image has its shortcomings, so I’d always used the idea of building a wall between ourselves and God. A venial sin is a single brick. A mortal sin is an infinitely long, infinitely high steel-reinforced concrete slab. Even that, though, seemed to have its limitations. Then we spent two days working with fire. After all the trouble we’d had starting fires, we decided to keep our one lunch fire going through dinner time so we wouldn’t have to start over again. We might have neglected it a few times so that the ashes covered the embers, but with just a little tapping and stoking, maybe an extra log, it came back full force rather quickly. However, if we let it go out completely, or worse doused it with water until it was no longer even steaming… do you see where I’m going with this?


You’re always on my mind. Even with the huge log pile the campground provided on our arrival, we still needed to be on the constant looking for firewood. On our hikes in the woods we were looking for kindling. At the playground, we scavenged under the red pine for winter-scattered needles. Wandering to the bathhouse, we picked up sticks. This one vital task took up so much of our mental energy, even when we weren’t actively working with our fire. Think of all the other jobs that women have had through the centuries that occupied our minds from the moment we woke to the moment we rested. I’m often down on myself for being so obsessed with food (see above re: admission of obesity). This camping experience helped me to see that such a thing may be hard-wired into my brain for the sake of survival. God put it there for a reason, and knowing this has helped me forgive myself a little bit for, well, being who I am, concupiscence and all.


Mmmm… Easter Fire=Toasted Peeps

Do you have girls ages 8-15? Would you be interested in joining the First Disciples Project Beta Tester Team? Leave a comment below and we’ll be in touch!


7 Quick Takes Friday

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Join Jennifer over at Conversion Diary for The 7QT Experience!


This has been a rough week on many levels.  The first rough patch is in trying to finish a quilt for a family member.

I’m not a great quilter to begin with (and she asked me to do this in spite of my having made very clear that I’m not a great quilter).  The top is now pieced, and the sandwich made, so I’ve started machine quilting it… only to discover that my machine just does not deliver enough power to the feed dogs to make the stitches long enough, even… or even straight.  I’m on a deadline, baffled as to how to get through this.  My old department at college had industrial machines (not quilters, but they’d do in a pinch).  Alas, that department closed in the spring.


Second Shift of Kid has reached that stage where she has decided to test the limits of the limits she has already tested.  This looks like, “So, I’m not allowed to hit my family members without consequences?  Let’s see what happens when I hit perfect strangers–adults included.”  “I know I’m not supposed to yell during daily Mass, but what happens if I roll around on the floor?”  Etc.  I.  Am.  Fried.


I did read Patti Maguire Armstrong’s new kid fic piece, Dear God, I Don’t Get It.

It’s a sweet and honest moral tale for the 7-12 set.  In it, slightly-shy Aaron, age 12, has to move from beautiful Montana to the dreaded Bismark, North Dakota (seems it’d be like this Philly girl needing to move to –GAH!–NEW JERSEY!).  Whether defending himself or his faith, poor Aaron seems to be doing nothing but making enemies, and his efforts to turn things around are dubious at best.  Then his new life throws him new opportunities, both to fall into heroism and to choose playing the hero’s part.  What will he choose?  Read it and find out.

As a Catholic mom of readers in this age set, I had to love how Aaron’s family’s faith was woven into the story, not as a big deal, but as easy as breathing–asthmatic breathing sometimes, sure, as we see Aaron learn that God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we’d like.  But even the questions and God’s responses to them through the plot were done with a light hand.  I highly recommend.


Here’s something I do but don’t talk about much here:  we do homeschool.  Yeah.  I’m a Catholic writer who homeschools and blogs.  Can we say, “Walking Sterotype?”


Speaking of homeschooling, this was the first week all our neighbors went back to school. We did our annual tradition of going to the movies!  There’s a little second-run theater nearby (when I say “nearby,” I mean “within an hour away,” because we live in a cornfield) that was showing Monsters University.  It was supposed to be a day off, but Second Shift asked if we could count it as hours.  “We can, if we talk about the literary character development in the story.”  So we did.  We talked about how both main characters were dynamic, in that they went from being “bossy and proud” to “cooperative and humble.”  We also talked about the concept of entitlement and how it makes us brats.


Speaking some more of homeschooling, This summer, we learned the books of the New Testament sung to the tune of “Camptown Races.”  Since I believe both are in the public domain, I’ll share our “song” with you:

Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts

Romans, both Corinthians

Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians

Both Thessalonians

Two Timothys, one Titus

Philemon, Hebrews, James

1st and 2nd Peter, 3 Johns

Jude and Revelation!

 [To “Shave and a Haircut”] That’s our Catholic [clap] NEW TESTAMENT!

Be sure to finish with “jazz hands.”  That’s key.


Oh!  Official reviews for Don’t You Forget About Me are coming in!  The first one I’ve seen so far was really, really wonderful.  I got the email with it literally SECONDS after praying what I like to call my “Hurley Victory Prayer.”

Yep, that Hurley.  Whenever things are going really badly, I turn to God and say those words from the ep, “Tricia Tanaka is Dead.”  “Look, I don’t know about you, but things have really sucked for me lately, and I could really use a victory. So let’s get one, dude! Let’s get this car started. Let’s look death in the face and say: ‘Whatever, man!'”

So, here’s to the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.  Click on that link to my book page to check when the first review goes live.

7 Quick Takes Friday

Join Jennifer over at Conversion Diary for 7 Quick Takes Friday.

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Let the fun begin!


Less than three weeks until the Catholic Marketing Network Trade Show and Catholic Writers Guild Live.

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I’ll be surfing for swag and celebrity sightings at the former and talking on a panel and introducing speakers at the latter. I’ll get to hang with AnnMarie Creedon again! And Ellen Gable! And Margaret Realy! And (hopefully? pretty please?) Laura at Green4God! And FranciscanMom! Anybody else?


I can’t believe it’s Friday, because it’s the week of VBS at our parish. Our parish runs VBS Sunday-Thursday, so because my brain is a creature of habit, it is always telling me during VBS week that Sunday is Monday, and Thursday is Friday… and now I’m confused. You may be, too.


We live in Amish country. This means we are in the middle of a heat wave with high humidity… and our neighbors consider this prime time to lay down the manure on their fields. In principle, I’m all about organic farming. In reality… well, I’ll just wipe my eyes, pinch my nostrils and move on.


Speaking of CMN/CWG, I’ll be bringing a stash of these beauties along with me!

If you’re going and want to pick up a hard copy, come find me at just about all of the CWG talks, and I’ll hook you up.


Speaking of dystopic novels written by Catholics, I just yesterday finished Death Panels by Michelle Buckman.

It was gripping, page-turning, and surprisingly satisfying at the end. I’m going to be bold and call it our Handmaid’s Tale. Well done, Michelle.


And now for something completely different! Our family recently discovered how to make “instant” lemonade! Fill a tall Tupperware tumbler with ice, pour in about 2-3 tsp of lemon juice (juice of one lemon, if you have it), sugar to taste, then almost fill it with water. Secure the tumbler’s lid, and shake the bejeezus out of it. It keeps the kids busy, teaches them about how agitation helps dissolve solvents into solutes (did I get that right), and it is downright delicious!

For no good reason, here is a picutre of my awesome Rat Terrier.